Creative Overload: Getting Back Your Focus

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Overloaded

Lately I have been finding it difficult to focus on one thing at a time and my mind has been leaping all over the place.  It is not that I haven’t any ideas.  It’s more of a case of too many, while at the same time being busy with other outside commitments.

Take this blog for example.  I have had lots of ideas for posts and have been jumping from one to the next, trying to do everything at the same time and taking forever to settle on a particular theme which is not an efficient way of working.  It has not helped that I have been a bit sleep deprived and that is bad for clarity of thought.  Here is another example of an interruption to the creative process, but it is one that is self-inflicted rather than coming from something beyond your control.  How can you resolve this type of situation?  I have a few thoughts that might resonate with others in the same boat.

When you find that your brain is overloaded with ideas, you need to write them all down so that they do not disappear into the realm of lost thoughts.  Then at least you can go back and look at what you have written when your mind is clearer.  Since Art School I have always kept a notebook handy on my desk and beside my bed for such a purpose, because I always seem to have ideas at any time of the day.  Before bed can be particularly productive because things that were swirling around your brain can suddenly come together at the day’s end or when you wake up in the morning.

Having lot’s of ideas is good but not if they become confused and unmanageable.  You can’t create if you are in a mental muddle and your work will suffer as a consequence.  You need to separate all your ideas into small, separate boxes, rather than trying to do everything at once.  Use the old task management technique where you break things down into smaller steps.  Once you have focused upon a particular creative concept it is probably better to just jump in and do something, and not worry about the final result.  The “one small step at a time” method usually works.  Then, before you know it, you find that it is finished.  If it is not to your satisfaction you can always do something different or rework the idea.

Too much creative stimulus can sometimes hinder you from getting anything done at all.  You need to pace yourself and reward yourself with other diversions so that you do not expend all of your energy and then get bogged down from exhaustion.   It is ok to have some time out.    Last weekend Ellie and I went to the Gangster themed birthday party.  We spent some time during the week on finding accessories for our Bonnie Parker and Blanche Barrow Costumes, including me making a diamante hair clip, buying some plastic revolvers and a fake cigar at a party shop.  Incidentally the party was terrific and we had a great time, so it was well worth the effort.  After having a fun and distracting weekend of dress-ups and celebration I feel more refreshed, less stressed and have been able to get back to some creative work.

From now on I will take my own advice and work on one idea at a time, make sure that I have breaks and get some more sleep.  I hope that this works for you as well.

Kat

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Be Creative with Your Old Festive Decorations.

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Each December I give a Dalek figure a Santa hat and a stocking and decorate a Tardis money box with a magnetic tree, because Time Lords and their evil nemeses deserve a bit of festive joy, as do we all.  Decorations for the festive season put you in the mood for fun holidays and family get-togethers.  Every year it is nice to add a few new pieces to your collection, but the advertising catalogues we receive in the letterbox seem to be full of ever more expensive or unoriginal items.  If you like doing craft you can make your own, but if, like me you do not have the time to do this in a big way, you can remake and repurpose your existing decorations.  In our household we reuse items from our decorations box every year, but try to give them a new spin, with the latest catalogues providing inspiration.  It is so much more imaginative and satisfying than just going out and buying new baubles.

In Australia it is also summer and I like to limit the amount of northern winter decorations, because the days are long and there are hot days to enjoy.   A reference to the snow is ok because it can make you feel cooler, but it is good to celebrate the summer time.

Sometimes broken decorations can be given a new purpose.  A few years ago I reused the round metal frame of an old wreathe that had lost its foliage and hung this by a chain from the ceiling above our stair banister.  From curtain hooks I hung metal silver butterflies and white, gold and silver papier-mâché stars to form a mobile.  In the centre was a hanging red bird candle holder.  To match this I attached a long silver chain on the left side of the stairs decorated with silver and red hearts and a white peace dove.  To the right of the mobile I hung a white glittery horse, a larger silver heart and to reflect the summer,  a red mobile with natural shells.  It was a look that suited our modern living room and did not clash with the African artifacts and the black bamboo pole on the stairs.

Over the years we have done the real and the artificial tree thing, but a couple of years ago I decided to do my own original take on this iconic item.  We have an old silver music stand, and the base forms a pyramidal shape like a pine tree when the top half is removed.  Once placed on the TV console, I wound the silver metal chain around the outside held with a couple of curtain hooks and voila, I could hang decorations from the links.  The same star decorations from the mobile, some silver trees and musical instruments, together with a metal angel, were attached to the chain with small wire hooks.  I fitted a metal skewer into the hole in the top of the central pole and blue tacked one of the stars to it.  A silver metal reindeer, a couple of silver summer insects and a tea light sat under the tree to give it interest.  At the other end of the console our grandmother’s 60s wooden leaf-shaped dish held some silver fruit decorations.

Last year I went for more of a Scandinavian effect.  The horse and the peace dove were now on the tree.  I added a reindeer themed card on a stand and next to the tree the silver reindeer sat beside a couple of small logs, offcuts from some tree pruning.  On top of the flat log was a little rabbit blowing a trumpet that we have had for years.  Just a little bit of change is often all that is needed to update your theme.

We had some old Ikea straw decorations in storage and one of the mobiles was a bit tatty, so I cut off the straw angels and stars and tied these to the stair banisters so they sat against the wall.  Some were also hung from the ceiling above the stairs, together with another Ikea straw mobile and the red bird.  In the wooden leaf dish now sat three Ikea woven straw pinecones.  I assembled an abstract snowman figure from an alabaster ball that came from a broken lamp, topped with a porcelain ball from a broken salad dressing shaker and sat it next to a gold star.  On the bookshelves opposite I put some more traditional wooden ornaments; small white angels, musicians and Santas next to a glittery tree card.  The whole scheme was very modern with references to northern traditions, yet did not look out of place in our warm climate.

I have not decided what I will do this year because I usually decorate spontaneously.  Maybe I will dig out some of the less used items in the storage box for a change.  I have noticed that traditional wooden toy decorations are making a comeback so I might play around with some that we have tucked away.

You may prefer a more traditional festive scheme, but whatever your style, have fun and use your imagination to rework what you already possess.  It is possible to come up with interesting ways to decorate you home without spending a great deal, if at all.

Kat

Party Costumes: When at First You Don’t Succeed

As you have already heard from this blog, Kat and I have been invited to a “Gangster and Moll” birthday party.  My character will be Blanche Barrow, the sister-in-law of Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame, and her style dress shall be different from that of Bonnie Parker, Kat’s character.

Now like my sister I do not want to go in the expected costume of a 1920s “flapper”, dressed in masses of fringing or sequins.  It is just not my style.  Instead of going out to hire or buy a party costume, I have created a unique costume by combining key pieces from my wardrobe in a way that reinterprets the silhouette of the period.

The Costume

For this occasion I have combined a blue, floral patterned velvet cardigan over a plain maroon ankle length skirt.  To accentuate the skirt and hips I have wrapped an Indian velvet scarf, around the top of the skirt and pinned it together with an oval brooch at the front to form an overskirt with two overlapping floral panels.   For my jacket I have been inspired to select one from my collection of Japanese haori.  It is a soft pink/violet with a small, stylised floral pattern of white and grey flowers.  The kimono shape was fashionable during the 1920s and early 1930s.  To bring it all together I have accessorised with a violet, embroidered floral shoulder bag to match the skirt.  I have also made a headpiece using ribbon, diamantes and feathers to truly get the look of the period.

The Headpiece, Plan A & B

It seemed like such a simple task. Make a small headpiece to look like a 1930s lady dressed for a night in a speakeasy.  This was my chance to be creative.  I could make the headpiece from materials that I already had and would not need to spend a lot of money.  Just in case I did not have the correct fixings at home I went to a large chain store specialising in sewing and haberdashery items to buy some basic construction materials.  I was playing with the idea of making a small rosette or panel on which I could fit some sequins or beading and feathers.

I purchased a headband with a woven straw disc, a fancy diamante trim to make the headpiece “sparkle”, 2 packets of white feathers, some circular fabric discs to fix the feathers to my selected base and some metal hair clips to fix it to my hair.  At home I found some pieces of scrap material, blue taffeta silk and a patterned floral silk in blue, pink, green and white.  These would match my costume.  I also had some interfacing and Tacky Glue.

I soon realised that the headband and the round straw disc were the wrong shape for the diamante trim and too big for my hair.  I decided to move to Plan B.  Six layers of interfacing were ironed together and cut in an oval shape slightly wider than the diamante trim.  The floral silk was cut larger than the oval base, centred and glued to the back of the interfacing.  I then sewed a line of stitches around the outer edge of the loose fabric and gathered it in the centre to form a ruche on the front of the disc.  Decorative ruching was popular during this period.  Next I stitched a metal hair clip to the back of the oval panel.  I glued the white feathers together using between two of the white fabric discs as I planned to glue them to the front of the fabric then attach the diamante trim on top.  Before doing these final steps I experimented with how it would look in my hair.  It did not work.  It looked terrible.  My hair is too curly and wild and it would not stay in place.  I decided I needed another solution and not waste any more time on this idea.

The Headpiece, Plan C

Back to the notions box in the studio and with much rummaging I found two violet satin ribbons in a paper bag.  They were good quality and already were tied in bows.  I think I must have saved them from packaging, where sheets or linens were tied up in pretty bows.  After trying one ribbon on my head to see if it would fit, it did, I found the size of the bow was perfect to fit the feathers and the diamante trim.  I first sewed the fabric disc holding the feathers to the front of the bow, with the diamante trim sewed over both the feathers and the bow.  Voila!  Finally I had the perfect headpiece for my costume.

Making this headpiece reminded me that there is more than one way to be creative.  You can carefully plan your project from the start, so that you have everything worked out so that you save time, money and effort.  You can also work more freely as I did and make it up as you go along.  The important point with both methods is to recognize when an idea is not working and that you sometimes need to go through the design and construction process and fail before you can find the right solution.

My costume is now complete.

Ellie

Childhood Imagination and Scary Stories

The stories that you hear as a child are among the first things to stimulate your imagination and creativity.  Some of these tales stay with you well into adulthood and you often try to recreate that sense of wonder or tension in your own work.

Today we seem to be losing the oral story tradition of past generations because there is such a huge choice of media available to entertain the young.  This is a pity.  It is a good idea to write down the oral stories told to you by your grandparents and parents so that they do not disappear altogether and so that you can pass them on to your own children.

Sometimes the stories that you remember most are the creepy ones, because of the excitement that they generated on the first telling.   My father told my sister and I a great scary story when we were children.  My grandmother also told it to my mother when she was a child while they were doing the dishes.  It was from an old mystery storybook that she owned but which has long since disappeared.

I do not know the original title or the author.  I have searched for it on the Internet and have not been able to find any reference to the work, so I am writing it down here in case anyone out there might know the original tale (it is not The Yellow Wallpaper), as well as to share it with others.  I can only remember the gist of the story so I am filling in the gaps with my own words to make it sound coherent and to give the feeling of the original.  It is set around the turn of the twentieth century.

The Mysterious Wallpaper (unknown author and Me)

A Man, who had been travelling for several years, returned to London to complete some business in the city.  He took a room in a small hotel not far from the central business district. It was a small cozy room that contained a single bed, a small desk, an easy chair and a wardrobe.  However its distinguishing feature was that it was decorated with intricate wallpaper of a jungle leaf pattern, the like of which the traveller had never seen before.

After depositing his bags, the traveller went about his daily business in the city and thought no more about the curious wallpaper.  At the end of the day he ate his evening meal and retired to his room for the night.  Relaxing in the easy chair to catch up on some reading by the soft gaslight, he became aware of a movement out of the corner of his eye and looked towards the wall.  The foliage in the wallpaper seemed to part for a moment and he perceived an indistinct figure in the distance.  As he gazed at the spot the leaves closed as if nothing had happened.  The traveller thought that he must have been imagining things and that the port he had drunk after his meal was probably the cause.  He went to bed and slept soundly.

The next day his routine was much the same and he retired early to his room to complete some business correspondence.  As he sat at the desk immersed in his work, he suddenly became aware of the sound of rustling leaves in front of him.  Again he looked towards the wallpaper to see, between the swaying parted leaves, the distinct figure of an ape-like creature moving through the dense undergrowth.  It turned and looked towards him, stopped, then quickly disappeared into the tangled jungle.

The traveller jumped up with a start and knew that this time he was definitely not dreaming.  He determined to find out more about the strange wallpaper.  After a restless night, with one ear cocked for any unusual disturbance, he went down to the manager’s office and inquired about the wallpaper in his room.  The manager only knew that the wallpaper was a prototype designed by a local artist, who had since died, but that the artist’s sister still lived in the area.  After obtaining her address from the manager he set off to pay her a visit.

Introducing himself to the artist’s sister, the traveller explained that he was a guest of that particular hotel and was interested in learning more about the incredible wallpaper in his room.  The woman was most cordial and proud to talk of her late brother’s work.  She explained that after returning home from an expedition to the dark continent of Africa, her brother became obsessed with recreating the atmosphere and appearance of the jungle.  The wallpaper was the culmination of his efforts and he had been allowed to decorate the room, in fact his own, with the only examples of his final design. Unfortunately he suffered from poor health and died suddenly before it could be put into commercial production.  Moreover, he had expired in that very room, something that the hotel did not advertise.

This whole story made the traveller extremely uneasy and he reluctantly returned to his room for the night.  Rather than retiring to the bed, he made himself comfortable in the easy chair with his trusty pistol by his side as a precaution.  So he would not fall asleep and miss any activity in the wallpaper, he left the gaslight on high and settled down to read.

Despite his best intentions, he could not stay awake much past midnight and dozed off to sleep, in spite of the strong lighting.  In the early hours of the morning he suddenly sat bolt upright.  The room was filled with the sound of violently rustling leaves.  He turned to the wall on his left and there, to his horror, between the wallpaper’s leaves and staring directly at him, was the face of the huge ape-like creature.  As he made a grab for his pistol, the gaslight went out and he was surrounded by darkness and the sound of crashing undergrowth.  He fired wildly and repeatedly in the direction of the beast as his terrified screams rang out in the blackness.  Then silence.

After the mysterious disappearance of the guest in the jungle room, the hotel manager had the wallpaper painted over, as it was not good for business.

THE END

As a child I chose floral wallpaper for my bedroom, but I never wanted any jungle leaves.

There is something special about having a story told through the spoken word that gives it another dimension and creates immediate pictures in your head, as well as effecting the mood.  This tale gave me a love for reading horror and mystery stories that I still have today.   It also made me appreciate the bizarre and this has influenced some of my own artwork.  Maybe you also have a childhood story that will trigger your imagination and lead you to create something new.

I hope that you have enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed recreating the piece.  And if anyone knows of the original author and title please contact me via this website, as it would solve another mystery.

Kat

Creative Dressing: Summer Party Jackets

This year in Victoria the hot weather has been a long time coming and everyone is relieved to be finally ditching those winter clothes.  In Australia we have the advantage of end of year holidays in the warmest months when we can wear our summer finery.  Dressing up for summer parties can be expensive and it is good to have items that can be used in different combinations so that they last for more than one season.  In Melbourne there is also the unpredictability of the weather that makes choosing an outfit tricky.  You never know when a cool change will make the temperature plummet from above 30 degrees to the chilly teens.  A great solution to this dilemma is having a summer jacket to go over your lighter clothes.

I have been collecting these types of jackets for several years and switch them around with different tops and skirts to create new looks.  This has saved lots of time and money and reflects my own style of dressing.  Vintage Japanese Haori jackets are among my favorite pieces.  I bought a couple of these at a Japanese store in Melbourne, and while not dirt cheap, were great value because they are beautifully made and each is unique.  I also have several less expensive Indian made jackets: one floral Haori inspired; two identical made of lace in black and green; and a black sheer one.

I like to mix these jackets with vintage clothes and accessories and newer items for my own individual look.  I have a black contemporary skirt that goes with different tops under all the jackets.  For a 60s look I wear the skirt with a vintage black sequined top and a 1930s bugle beaded necklace both inherited from a relative.  This looks great under the red and black 60s Haori.  If I want to appear even more colorful, I wear the red floral Haori with a camisole top and the skirt and accessorize with a Chinese enameled buckle belt and Venetian glass beads, souvenirs from overseas trips.  For a cooler look I put the same top and skirt under the Indian floral Kimono jacket, together with a black leather belt and a Scottish green enameled pendant.  Combining clothing and accessories from different cultures and eras in the one outfit creates visual interest, as well as being fun.

The lace and sheer jackets completely change the feeling of the skirt and top.  For that little black dress effect I wear the black lace jacket with the leather belt and a vintage bead necklace found at the op shop.  Switching to the sheer black jacket creates a different outfit, especially when you add a chunky colorful eighties necklace and the Chinese enameled belt.  For a softer look I replace the jacket with the green lace version and wear this with a floral Indian top, tied with a matching sash and the Scottish enameled pendant.

There are many more ways that I can wear these jackets.  Putting them with a longer skirt or with pants allows many different combinations. Then there are the endless changes that can be done with various accessories.  Sticking to a base color like black means that you can get away with buying a few good quality shoes and bags that make an outfit appear stylish.  I see these jackets as pieces that I can keep for years, as they are timeless classics and do not get the same amount of wear as everyday clothes.

If you want to do something similar you can find suitable vintage jackets at local recycled clothing stores and on the internet.  You might be lucky and find one at an op shop or a Sunday market.  For new items there are ethical Indian clothing stores to be found at major shopping centres and on-line (like Tree of Life and Ishka ).  Just buy what appeals to you and develop you own individual sense of style rather than following fashion fads.  After all, what we wear is another form of self-expression and it makes you feel good to dress for yourself.

The following is a link to an Australian website where you can buy genuine Haori jackets:

japanmade.com.au – Haori page

Kat

Coping with Interruptions to your Creative Flow

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You’re happily doing some creating, painting, playing an instrument, writing or whatever your passion may be, when someone or something disruptive happens along that stops your flow.  How do you calm yourself and get back into that zone where you can freely create?

I was getting ready to do some drawing when a neighbor, who I had never met, rang the doorbell to complain about our dogs barking.  Admittedly they were being annoying but not as much as this person was suggesting.  Anyway I said that we would try to do something about the problem and he went away.  But I was irritated by the experience and found it hard to relax to do some drawing.

Dealing with interruptions is a reality of life for creative people and you just need to find a way to cope with these situations that works for you.  I find it best to do something completely different to calm myself.  After that complaint I went and played guitar in the garden and practiced some new songs.  Getting some sunshine really helps.  Other methods include taking the dog for a walk; doing some housework or the thing that you have been putting off; doing some physical exercise to get rid of angst or writing about the situation in a journal (or a blog).  Having a cup of tea or coffee is good and there is always chocolate.  In other words do whatever makes you feel better.

As there are more demands on our time these days any moments we can set aside for our creative work are precious.  To avoid being interrupted in the first place, try to minimize the likelihood of this occurring. You need to make sure that your relatives, housemates and friends respect your personal space.  Many people turn off the phone and tell others not to disturb them between certain hours.  A “do not knock” sticker on the front door should discourage salespeople but does not work for other types of callers (like grumpy neighbors).

Circumstances beyond your control can be disruptive and it is a good idea to find a way to adapt to the situation so that you do not lose inspiration.  I have had to put up with the extreme sound of demolition machines next door on my days off over the last couple of weeks and this has made it difficult to relax.  It was probably not the time to do something that required my undivided attention.  Instead I undertook less demanding tasks that did not depend upon intense concentration, like sorting out my photo library, research on the Internet and other activities that would trigger my imagination.

If you are prevented from doing your usual creative pursuits for a lengthy period try to find some other outlet until things return to normal.  During a house renovation several years ago I was sleeping in a caravan at the rear of the property and did not have enough space for any major artwork. I did small collages and drawings in a visual diary, played guitar and wrote some songs. It got me through the stress and noise and I made the most of the experience.  It was actually a very productive time.

Don’t let negative situations and interruptions get you down.  Turn them into a positive and let them feed your creativity.  You might come up with your best work.

Kat

Embrace the Fun Side of Your Creativity

It would be a very boring world if we had to be serious all the time and to be creative you don’t have to always work with deep and meaningful concepts.  You can express yourself in any way you like and sometimes do things just for fun.  I like to play around and create amusing visual displays.  From retro toys, souvenirs and figures from other cultures to kitsch items and colourful ephemera, these are placed in the studio, as well as other rooms in the house and in the garden.  They are a source of inspiration and make me smile.

Some of these displays have grown into collections and others contain only a few items.  In the kitchen there is a large pine cabinet that mainly houses crockery and glass objects, but the top shelf is devoted to old and new toys, including a number bought on holiday in Japan.  Every time I look at this shelf, as well as being visually pleasing, each item has a story to tell that brings back many memories.

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The most playful objects are in the studio as this is where I need a lot of visual stimulation. One of the seven dwarfs and a vintage Popeye toy sit on the computer desk and I can see them every time I sit down to work.  Across the room on a shelf, a child’s toy wardrobe holds a diorama with seaside souvenirs and related objects, while a trio of incongruous toy horses stand along side.  On the top of the wardrobe sits a miniature closet and dressing table in the same pale blue. Greeting cards with interesting and associated designs are often used in my groupings and I have a large number to choose from. I move items around in different combinations when the mood takes me.  For example, some resin figures that have at one time been in the old dollhouse (see 2nd post) or the wardrobe display, now sit on a pelmet in the studio.  Others may view these articles as clutter and dust collectors, but to me they are part of a whimsical realm where my imagination can wander.

Out in the garden a gnome peeps out from under a shrub and an owl, a failed possum scarer, sits on a metal post to become a quirky feature. A cast iron gecko crawls along a rock.  These things are purely for amusement and don’t pretend to be anything else.  For me, keeping a sense of fun is a necessary part of the creative process.

Many creative people have collecting and hoarding tendencies and sometimes it can be difficult to control.  I find that I have to be selective with what I keep and have given away countless objects because it was impossible to store them with the space available.  But there are no rules to this and you can be sparing or lavish with your chosen material.  If it is a house full of Star Wars figures that gives you a buzz or if you want a garden full of gnomes, go for it and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.

The following links are to examples of homes and gardens where the residents have embraced the fun side of their creativity in a flamboyant and unconventional manner.

Sandra Eterovic – The Design Files

Bronwyn Barnett – ABC News

Sydney Garden Gnome House – Cool Hunting

Pensioner Robert Rae’s garden – Daily Mail UK

Kat